Over 20 Years After Gotham Endured its Most Insufferable Time
Hush, Knightfall, The Killing Joke, Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. Whenever anyone gets into a topic regarding Batman’s history of comics the same titles always get thrown around with unmistakable reasoning. All of these stories are phenomenal chapters of the dark knight’s legacy that fundamentally influenced and reforged the character of Bruce Wayne along with his world of allies and rogues time and time again. They changed the way in which audiences view not only Batman’s mythology but how other comic books unfold overarching plots focusing on both their lineup of complex interpretable heroes and villains.
Batman’s overwhelmingly large critically acclaimed catalog will forever be deemed as must-reads and well-known tales to those who have never even cracked open a comic book, however, there is one anomaly that is well-deserving of a place on the grand pedestal. It oddly never gets the acknowledgment it should have within the conversations of the Batman fandom, but it is still critically important to the caped crusader’s ever-expanding modern mythos.
It is truly ironic that Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most impactful pieces of media the world’s greatest detective has ever been featured in when accounting for his own history of storytelling. The saga always appears as the comic series that not many people seem to have even partially read, yet its creative influence on comic book culture still lurks from the turn of the century. Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City in the source material comic book, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom despite its neverending appeal to DC’s mainstay creators who forged the modern image of the billionaire who built their house.
With a sparse amount of collected releases and little to no spotlight from its parent company or fandom, Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most underappreciated stories of Gotham City, yet one of the most impactful.
No Man’s Land is a massive crossover event written by ten different writers through DC’s lineup of late 90s Bat-family comics. This included Detective Comics, Batman, Azreal, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and a few miscellaneous issues from other DC characters. The eighty issue run started in 1998 and ended in the year 2000, however, the series has since been published as seven individual books under the Batman banner being Cataclysm, Road to No Man’s Land Volumes One and Two, and of course No Man’s Land Volumes One through Four.
Without spoilers, the story of Batman: No Man’s Land is focused on a massive self-centered crime war taking place on an isolated Gotham City after the dark knight’s home is struck by multiple natural disasters that cut the central island off from the mainland. Cataclysm is the first chapter in the No Man’s Land saga that depicts the destruction of Gotham by earthquakes. It is arguably the one part of the series that readers can skip as the story is easy to understand without any deep background knowledge of the situation.
The followup chapter Road to No Man’s Land is the real beginning of the consequential aftermath showing how the city fell into chaos as all of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison’s inmates are left free of regulation. Bruce Wayne pleads the government for help but is initially denied any resources as the United States declares Gotham as the first-ever location in the USA to be exempted from their protected territory, leaving the Bat empty-handed and forced to adapt to a new breed of crime-fighting to save his home. While the government threw in the towel on the most crime-infested city in the world, The Gotham City Police Department lead by Commissioner James Gordon attempts to defend its remaining turf as they begin to embrace the unstoppable crisis.
No Man’s Land is the climax, falling action, and resolution of the story arc. It depicts a numerical day count to show how Gotham’s situation has not improved one bit despite the number of months that have passed since the gangs began carving up territory. As the counter slowly rises each issue, the situation further unfolds and resolves through a miracle uncommunicative collaborative effort between the GCPD, abandoned civilians, and the Bat-family.
If this all sounds familiar to you, it likely should. No Man’s Land was the core inspiration for the highest regarded Batman media outside of the comic books- stories that many fans judge the defender of Gotham by today. Batman Arkham City, Gotham, The New 52, and The Dark Knight Rises all borrow several plot elements and character setups from the introduction and rising action volumes of the comic series.
While it did not introduce many new characters the crossover did see the debut of the third Batgirl Cassandra Cain, a new relationship between Harvey Dent and Reena Montoya that would ooze into the first volume of Gotham Central, and most importantly character development for those introduced in the DC Animated Universe that were transitioning into the comics at the time such as the Joker’s sidekick lover Harley Quinn and Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves.
From a cast perspective, No Man’s Land further evolved Batman lore by extensively developing the relationships between specific rivalries and allies- Batman and Gordon most noticeably establish a more so friendly relationship rather than a “just coworkers” status. The core story itself is where the original comics thrive the most due to how it created a manipulative groundwork for other future narratives in the Batman franchise, but it also indisputably began establishing the character interactions we find in the mythos’ modern comics. Perhaps it might have even arguably developed Gotham City into its own character as the location itself draws a deeper persona amidst the chaos at hand during its most desperate hours.
Batman: No Man’s Land turned 20 recently and the only piece of media DC published that somewhat celebrated the original comics was the final season of FOX’s crime drama prequel series Gotham– a setup that was more than likely coincidental as the show’s story had always been building up to becoming a “no man’s land” warzone atmosphere. Gotham seasons four and five adapted several aspects from the books, but as expected the show mostly stuck to its own original plot despite heavily featuring numerous callbacks and references to the source material.
Typically DC usually puts out a new collected edition for an important comic book’s anniversary- if not maybe even a social media post at the very least- but No Man’s Land received surprisingly no recognition at all last year. As mentioned before, the latest release of this series was last published as seven separate volumes in 2011. There is currently no box-set or omnibus available for a reader’s convenience but the older publications are still in print and can be obtained at local comic book shops, online stores that sell graphic novels, or even digitally on DC Universe’s streaming service.
The No Man’s Land saga of the Batman mythos is like a double-edged sword. It is a fan-favorite for some, but an undiscovered gem for the vast majority. It passed by in a long string of storylines, yet its significance still has sunk deep into Bruce Wayne’s world no matter the form it is being adapted into. To the creators behind the scenes who continue to construct new features in the dark knight’s eighty-year legacy, it is a crucial precursor for the work that proceeded it despite the low impact it may have had on those who consumed it. The staggering length and price may push audiences away, but for those interested who have the means of seeing it through, it is well worth reading through the story of a dark island that inspired visionaries like Christopher Nolan and Bruno Heller’s interpretations of Batman’s home turf.